Businesses that have been forced to shut their doors or reduce their operations during the last months are slowly starting to open their doors, but many of them will need to let their customers know that they're ready to serve them. Customers may be anxious to purchase goods or services, but may not know which businesses are ready to provide them.
Veteran of Seattle media advertising and General Sales Manager of Sinclair Radio Charlie Gouge gave a presentation reviewing some of the considerations that businesses would need to make when advertising while restarting or restoring operations. He also shared some fundamentals of advertising that businesses should bear in mind when trying to reach current or new customers.
Charlie started by acknowledging that advertising encompasses a wider range of media than most people normally consider. In addition to radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, and billboards, advertising can take the form of word of mouth, branded merchandise worn by customers, or even a location that is near a landmark or serves as one itself.
Companies can work with their own personnel (insource) to direct their advertising efforts, or they can outsource their advertising efforts to a professional agency. What is most essential regardless of whether a business chooses to use in-house or external advertising people is that the relationship needs to be a true business partnership based on the success of the advertising efforts.
Charlie advised that this "business partner" should be someone (or group of people) with a sincere interest in the business's long-term success, rather than someone selling transactionally without a commitment to the long-term benefit of the advertising campaign. Having an advertising business partner who understands your business's unique issues, budget, customers, and goals has an immense value in tailoring an ad campaign for optimal impact, but it is perhaps even more valuable in terms of the personal investment that type of partner will bring to the relationship. The ideal advertising "business partner" is one who has a results-based approach, strives to improve upon each previous advertising effort, and assumes that the client's expectations for value will be high.
Charlie recommended that businesses "take a look in the mirror" and ask themselves the following questions before embarking on a campaign to restart operations:
- When can I reopen?
- Are there any new requirements that I need to meet when I reopen?
- How do I reopen safely and professionally?
- Will my product or service be needed now?
- Do my customers want to purchase my products or services now?
- Do my customers know my company or brand?
- When should I reopen?
Answering these questions will help businesses choose the medium for their advertising message. The budget for the advertising effort will have an effect on its reach, so businesses will need to consider how far their advertising budget will take them toward their goal for each medium.
Charlie recommended the Wizard of Ads series of books by Roy Williams, which he said helped inform his understanding of the four types of commercial advertising strategies that companies can use.
Strategy 1: No paid advertising
The company conducts no paid advertising, and relies on word-of-mouth advertising and referrals.
- Upside: Free and uses no company resources
- Downside: Seldom effective at increasing business
Strategy 2: Sales-focused advertising
Advertising focuses on temporary price reductions or promotional offers.
- Upside: Easy to create and effective at increasing business
- Downside: Only attract transactional buyers focused on price, not loyal customers
Strategy 3: Branding-focused advertising
Advertising focuses on company attributes that are beneficial to the customer, superior to the competition, or stylistically or ethically attractive (i.e., convenience, competence, efficiency, style, charity or community activity).
- Upside: Easy to create and effective for positive branding
- Downside: Ads must be broadcast persistently to maintain brand awareness
Strategy 4: Bonding-focused advertising
Storytelling ads that entertain potential customers and connect emotionally to them to create a lasting relationship that makes a brand part of their lives.
- Upside: Endless creative possibilities and immense potential to transform a business
- Downside: Difficult to create an effective ad that will resonate positively with the majority of people
By definition, being proactive is taking command of a situation at the earliest stage possible so that you can better control the outcome. For most businesses, this means reaching in-market customers as soon as they are in the shopping process. In advertising, being proactive means identifying the audience your message will target, and the metrics you will use to measure the success of your message, before you create your advertising plan.
Knowing your goals and clarifying them with your team is a critical step to success. Once the team knows your goals, they can proactively plan to achieve them. With that goal in mind, identify the most likely audiences to be interested in your services or products, and then reach out to them with relevant messages that resonate and bring them to your business.
Knowing who your customers are, and understanding their lifestyles and needs will allow your business to craft highly relevant offers and messages. Basing advertising off of a deep understanding of customer lifestyles and needs will make the customer feel like you're selling them something they need, rather than just trying to make a sale. Ultimately, both the customer and the business win.
For the post-Coronavirus shutdown business environment, Charlie mentioned that businesses will have to consider both customer lifestyles pre-Coronavirus, and customer mindsets that have been changed because of the outbreak. Some customer behaviors that were predictable before coronavirus may be difficult to predict now, and may be dependent on the activity or industry. While a customer who normally buys a coffee from a drive-through window every weekday may keep that routine, she may no longer feel comfortable with her former routine of Sunday brunch in a crowded restaurant.
Using audience data will help answer telling questions like:
- "Who are the customers most likely to buy that?"
- "What is the best outlet to reach them?"
Finding the answers to these questions will create an easier path to accomplish the end goal. It is essential that you work with an advertising business partner (whether in-house or external) who can use analytics tools to answer these questions and discover other questions that can help customize the message to reach your objectives. Professional advertising agencies may have superior resources and even their own data when it comes to analytical ability, so this is something to consider when choosing a partner for your advertising efforts.
Customer surveys are an overlooked method of advertising that companies can use to gain a better understanding of how their customers' outlooks may have changed. This is a simple and low-pressure way to let customers know you will be available for business, while inviting them to inform you of the changes they expect to see from businesses when they return to operation.
Companies should always be striving for continuous improvement. To make that a reality, each time you achieve a goal or execute a campaign, it's important to take a step back. Review what's been completed, assess what changes need to be made and adjust strategies to make them even more successful moving forward.
Were messages relevant? Were the right customers in the areas reached? Did inventory match the wants and needs of the local market? Taking the time to analyze these outcomes and making adjustments for each new sales cycle will ensure that your advertising efforts can improve into the future.
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